The United Nations and the European Union

At the end of the Second World War, much of the world was left in shambles. Japan became the first and only state to be nuked; the Soviet Union had an enormous amount of casualties from Hitler’s invasion; Germany was ravaged from war. The damage was so vast and immense that the recovery process would be long and slow, and it can be argued that to this day we still have not entirely recovered from the destruction. Because of this, it naturally became a goal of many states throughout the world to set up systems that would prevent future conflict.

The two most prominent of these systems were inter-governmental organizations known as the United Nations and the European Union. Each of these took a different approach. The European Union was founded by the Treaty of Paris in 1951, which was intended to unite the coal and steel markets of Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands to such a degree that war would be too costly for any state. More states have joined over time as the EU has grown and evolved, but it continues to take the same approach – economic integration for the furthering of a European community.

The UN took a more “soft power” approach. Member states would give up only a minimal degree of their sovereignty. Instead of economic integration, the solution posed by the UN would be that member states in the General Assembly would employ diplomacy rather than violence. More significant decisions would be made by the Security Council, which consisted of five victorious states of World War 2 as permanent members. However, any decision of the Security Council was required to be unanimous. By default, this meant an extremely small surrender of sovereignty – no state in the Security Council would be expected to take an action it did not approve of.

It is, of course, an important debate as to which of these IGOs is more capable of keeping peace. Prevention of a third world war is as significant as anything else in International Relations. With the proliferation of nuclear power that is the case today, a world war could cause destruction that would make World War 2 look insignificant, and many people fear that growing tension over issues dealing with the Middle East could lead to an enormous conflict. Therefore, adopting a more successful strategy is essential. Comparing the EU and the UN, however, is not simple. One could count the number of armed conflicts among UN and EU member states, but this would be a slanted figure. The UN is significantly larger and its members are far more diverse, both economically and culturally. Larger and more significant issues have to be weighed in the considerations, and when these are weighed, it is all but apparent that the EU’s integration approach is far superior to the diplomatic approach of the UN.

The UN’s greatest weakness is that, since member states have surrendered so little of their sovereignty, there is almost nothing that the organization can do to prevent a state from taking an action that it does not approve of. The UN itself acknowledges this: “The UN does not have the capacity to impose peace by force. It is not a world government. It has no standing army, no military assets. It is not an international police force. The effectiveness of the UN depends on the political will of its Member States, which decide if, when and how the UN takes action to end conflicts.” One need only look at the current war in Iraq to see this failure in action. President Bush sent troops to Iraq without UN approval, and the UN was powerless to prevent it.

Some may argue that the EU is the same. These people claim that the peacekeeping abilities of the EU are comparable to those of the UN, but EU member states are more willing to follow the decisions of an IGO. This may or may not be the case, but if it is, one must question why this is the case. James D. Morrow, Randolph M. Siverson, and Tressa E. Tabares did a study on whether or not increased trade does, in fact, reduce conflict or make existing conflicts easier to resolve. Their variables and data are too complex to explain in depth in this paper, but their conclusion was that lasting peace is best attributed to shared interests of states and similarities of their political institutions. Morrow, Siverson and Tabares go on to say that these shared interests are not necessarily related to trade, but with firm economic integration, shared interests are inherent. With Europe becoming a single market and using a single currency, shared interests are so strong that war becomes nearly unthinkable. In fact, the integration of Europe has actually helped create a sense of transnationalism. In fact, a recent study showed that 60% of citizens in EU states consider themselves European before, after, or instead of citizens of their individual state. This is especially significant when considering the fact that many of those surveyed still remember the days before the EU. The future generation, growing up with the EU, is likely to think of themselves as European even more so than their parents and grandparents. With this attitude, a war between states is significantly less likely, as citizens of one state consider themselves citizens of the other to some degree.

The UN has not created such a sentiment in any significant way. Citizens of UN member states rarely consider themselves cosmopolitans or “UNers.” The style of political and economic integration and the EU makes it less of a collection of states and more an overarching government – almost a state in and of itself. The UN, however, gives us no incentive to think so, as member states surrender very little of their sovereignty. A greater sense of cosmopolitanism would, undoubtedly, be a deterrent to war, but the UN has failed to aid in creating it.

One can give credit to the UN for using force to stop war at certain times. An example is the Korean War. The UN sent a peacekeeping force, and I do acknowledge that it was successful at ending the armed conflict. However, the process by which it occurred is rather shocking. When the war broke out, the Soviet Union was absent from the Security Council, which allowed them to act. Naturally, the USSR supported North Korea, so upon their return, the United States was forced to turn to the General Assembly for further aid. This tells us two things: 1) states in the UN must compete with one another to accomplish things, and 2) without surrendering a significant amount of sovereignty, an IGO might fail to accomplish anything. Critics of this theory would argue that the US and USSR would compete with one another regardless of what organization they belonged to. However, if their own interests were united to some degree, as they are in the EU, the competition between the two superpowers would be lessened.

Others would argue that the Korean War is a bad example, since neither North or South Korea were UN members at the time of the war. I acknowledge this, but point to the countless wars between states that were members at the time of the war: India and Pakistan in the Second Kashmir war (1965); Iran and Iraq in the First Persian Gulf War (1980-1988); Egypt, Syria and Israel in the Yom Kippur War (1973); and many more. The fighting states in these wars felt that their interests were in direct competition with their enemy. This is inherently going to lead to armed conflict if tension is not resolved. With an integration strategy such as that of the EU, interests are united, and these wars are prevented.

Some would say that the wars mentioned above were not fought over economic differences but ideological differences. There is some truth in this, but there were ideological differences between France and Germany between 1870 and 1945, when three Franco-German wars were fought. The two have not been in an armed conflict since the EU was founded.

In spite of these arguments, I will acknowledge that the UN has done a superior job of putting an end to conflict among non-member states in other parts of the world. The Korean War, as mentioned above, is an example of a success. There are numerous examples of UN peacekeeping forces sent around the world. Their approach to peacekeeping is admirable as well: forces are instructed to limit the use of violence to self-defense, although the Security Council may authorize the use of force to fulfill the mission, as was the case in the Congo. The EU did offer to raise a peacekeeping force to take over for NATO in Bosnia, and declared in 2003 that the 60,000-strong force was ready. The European Union’s willingness to offer a military force to help solve conflicts is admirable, but the existence of these forces within the UN and the EU is unimportant to the issue at hand. Perhaps the UN is better at stopping war outside its own territory, but the issue at hand in this paper is which of the two philosophies prevents war among member states. Regardless of what peacekeeping forces exist, I maintain my claim that the EU is superior. In effect, the fact that the EU was without a military force until 2003, coupled with the fact that there still has not been a war between member states since the end of World War 2, is a testament to the inherent preventative power of economic integration. Furthermore, one could debate whether or not either the UN or the EU have the authority to enter a sovereign state that has not volunteered an aspect of its sovereignty to either organization.

Critics of this theory are likely to bring up the democratic peace principle, which states that in the modern era, two democracies have not fought a war of any significant size. This would mean that the EU has kept peace not because of economic integration, but because of the nature of democracy in the region. In other words, the EU has a much smaller obstacle to peace than the UN. Most researchers and analysts acknowledge that the democratic peace principle is true, but they do not agree on why this is the case. A rationalist perspective would state that it is not simple support for the democratic ideal that prevents one democracy from going to war with another. Therefore, it must be something else. One possibility suggested by Morrow, Siverson, and Tabares, is that a democracy is more likely to have a liberal trading policy than a non-democratic state. This means more trade between democracies and a greater degree of open market and shared interest. Autocratic, communist, and other non-democratic states have a more restrictive policy on trade, and their interests with other states are not tied. Essentially, democracies do not fight wars because they are economically integrated more so than non-democracies. In other words, it is the EU system working de facto among democracies.

If the UN were to adopt a system similar to the of the EU, it would still have the obstacle of the greater likelihood of war between two non-democracies or a democracy and a non-democracy, something the EU does not have to fear. However, in spite of this added obstruction, an integrated economy would at least decrease the amount of war, even though it would not entirely eliminate it.

I would also point out that the EU is not free of such natural impediments to peace. Another principle governing the occurrence of war is contiguity – states sharing a border are more likely to go to war than states without a shared border. Being a regional IGO, the EU has member states sharing many borders. An examination of a map shows that the only member states that share no borders with another member state are Greece and Cyprus, the latter of which is an island and shares borders with no other state to begin with. Since in spite of this, they still have not fought a war, one must consider why contiguous states are more likely to be involved in conflict. Some of the issues to consider are territory, resource access and cross-border shared ethnicity. With an integrated economy, territory and resource access become less of an issue. Both states have access. Cross-border ethnicity is still a factor, though over time the significance of it diminishes, as we saw in the poll that showed a rising trend of European transnationalism.

Because of these reasons, economic integration inevitably proves to be the greater system for preventing war. This is not to say the system is perfect and will stop any possible armed conflict, but it is a powerful system. From a rationalist perspective, all states act on a cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, to prevent war, the best strategy is to set up a system such that the costs of war will always outweigh the benefits. This is what the EU has done.

My proposal is that the UN should work to make its policy similar to that of the EU. I am not foolish enough to say that a worldwide linked economy will, in the near future, prevent all wars. As I acknowledged at the onset, the scope of the UN is significantly larger than that of the EU and the member states more diverse, and thus war is inevitable even with integrated markets. However, most wars can be prevented, and those that do inevitably break out will be easier to halt.

I also realize that if such a push for economic integration were made, it would be met with intense resistance. Again, because of their diversity, many UN member states would be firmly against economic integration. Still, the goal is an admirable one, and even though it would take a great amount of time, the effort is worth the work.

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